Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital

Kevin Young

Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a contemporary American poet and teacher.

He’s worked as the director of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History.

Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital by Kevin Young is praising the hotel around the corner from the children’s hospital and describes the lives of the parents temporarily staying there. The poem breaks down the period of waiting, in an unfamiliar environment, for the hospital to call with updates about sick children. For the parents that have children in the hospital, this place functions as a solitude, a place to wait nervously while the hospital works in the distance. The poem is restless, breaking down small aspects of the hotel, focusing restlessly on every detail. The final stanza of the poem ‘praise[s]’ the moment in which the parents find out their child is okay, and that they can all go home together.

Ode to the Hotel Near the Children's Hospital by Kevin Young

Explore Ode to the Hotel Near the Children's Hospital


Structure and Form

Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital is split by Young into four stanzas, each of varying length with lines that are indented intersecting the poem. The amount of lines changes from 20 to 8, to 11, to 7, and finally finishing with two. This seemingly random change between the lines could be a representation of the uncertainty which faces the parents during this time. They don’t know exactly what is happening to their child with the hospital nearby, just saying silently in the hotel trying to pass the time. The length of the stay is always unknown, and therefore the stagnation and frequent change between line length represent this.

There is very little punctuation within Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital, with enjambement being used after most lines, and no caesuras being used throughout the poem. This continuation of the poem signifies the swift nature of this setting, the uncertainty surrounding stay length, the nervousness of the atmosphere not allowing the parents to properly settle. It is very quick to read, a reflection of the concerned, tense atmosphere that drives the narrative.

You can read the full poem here.


Poetic Techniques

Kevin Young uses anaphora throughout Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital, beginning many lines with a repeating ‘praise the’, followed by an aspect of the hotel. Young writes the poem as an ode, which places a certain subject as the primary focus of the poem, here it is the hotel. In using this ‘praise the’, Young is thanking the hotel for what it has done, with the Ode style combined with anaphora furthering this fact.

Another poetic technique that Young uses is employing euphemisms throughout the poem. This poem is subtly talking about the possibility of children getting sick, or even dying, yet does not literally say this once. Instead, Young uses euphemisms, such as ‘praise the nothing /that’s better than bad news’, the use of ‘bad news’ instead of outlining exactly what could have happened to be a case of euphemisms. Considering this poem is written on behalf of parents waiting for their children, the use of euphemisms reflects the characterization of the poem, with those parents treading carefully around topics that could potentially worry or scare their children. Moreover, the lack of discussing the reality of the situation sets up an emotional distance between the parents and the events that are happening to their children, with this layer of distance being a comfort during the difficult time.


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Praise the restless beds
Praise the beds that do not adjust
     that won’t lift the head to feed
& the heat
       or the loud cool
       that helps the helpless sleep.

Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital begins by stating ‘praise the restless beds’, instantly compounding this sense of nervousness that is contained within the hotel. The parents cannot sleep due to constantly thinking about the situation of their children in the hospital, but they are still thankful for the hotel being close by and understanding their situation.

Young then outlines the difference between the ‘restless beds’ that the parents are sleeping in, against the children’s hospital beds, that ‘lower for shots / or blood / or raise to watch the tinny TV’, the indentation of the conditions of the children’s beds showing how different they are.

The constant ‘murmur & holler’ of the ‘hotel TV’ provides comfort to those in the hotel. You can imagine their nervousness, waiting for a call from the hospital updating them on their child’s condition. Therefore, having this constant source of chatter and noise is something bright in this desperate situation, something to distract and fill the silence.

The final line of this stanza, ‘that helps the helpless sleep’ demonstrates the difficulty of the situation the parents are in. They cannot easily ‘sleep’ due to the uncertain waiting, but the little things within the hotel, such as ‘the hot water’, ‘the vending machines’, and take out food helps comfort them – this poem really is about the little thing that can calm you down, putting you at ease during times of unease.


Stanza Two and Three

Praise the front desk
       who knows to wake
       Rm 120 when the hospital rings
Praise the stranger’s hands
       that change the sweat of sheets
Praise the checking out

These stanzas focus on the ‘front desk’ and their handling of ‘the silent phone’, signifying the call from the hospital with updates on the condition of the children of these waiting parents. They are a great comfort to the parents, even praising ‘the nothing’, which is better than ‘bad news’. The front desk’s help in waking the parents in time for appointments, ‘the wakeup call’ is also praised, with the little helping hand from the staff being a comfort to the parents.

The second stanza has one of the only end stops of Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital, ‘waiting,/awake’. This focus on the ‘long nights’, ‘awake’ for the parents further compounds the silent horror of the situation, laying awake while waiting for a call with more information from the hospital. The end stop following ‘waiting’, combined with the same technique after ‘awake’ elevates this moment with a large pause in the meter, the slowing down and focus on this word extend the amount of time it takes to read ‘awake’, therefore reflecting the process of laying there in the dark, silently waiting for dawn. This is a long moment of pause within the poem, demonstrating the particular discomfort and worry about the situation.

The final line of stanza three changes the direction of Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital, acting as the poem’s volta. Indeed, ‘Praise the checking out’ shows the situation of parents that have children who recover from whatever they are fighting, being able to ‘check out’ and go home, together.


Stanza Four

Praise the going home
       to beds unmade
that lie there like a child should
        sleeping, tubeless

This stanza continues with the direction began with the final line of the previous stanza, following ’the going home’ of the family. It focuses on their ‘beds’ at home, recalling the opening lines of Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital. The beds ‘unmade / for days’ show how long the parents have been away, their children in the hospital finally being released and released back ‘home’. The ‘beds unmade’ are a positive image here, a certainty of being home that the sterile hospital and daily cleaned hotel beds cannot recreate. Indeed, ‘beds that on’t resurrect or rise’ furthers this suggestion, showing how these normal beds at home are much more comforting than those of their previous situation.

The caesura between ‘sleeping, tubeless’, grounds Young’s opinion that children should not be contained within hospitals like this. Of course, he is not critiquing the hospitals or the health services, just the tragic circumstances that put children there. He is upset that children have to be in these places, the idea that ‘tubeless’ has emphasis placed upon it by the caesura furthering the stance that normality is what children should be surrounded by, not these hospital beds.

Stanza Five

Praise this mess
         that can be left

This stanza is the shortest of all, measuring only two lines. It holds one final ‘praise’, this one to ‘this mess / that can be left’. Young is giving one final thank to the hotel parents stay in, but this time it is a tribute to the fact they can be left. Children can recover, get better, and go home. Young thanks the hotel for everything it has done, but most of all is thankful for the fact that eventually, parents can leave this place.

There is a slight uncertainty to the poem, with the lack of a concluding mark of punctuation suggesting that this situation continues after Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital has finished. This could be suggesting that for other parents, this situation goes on. Or, perhaps there is uncertainty around if the child will continue to be healthy, the lack of an end stop suggesting there could be more to this story than first written.

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Jack Limebear Poetry Expert
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.
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